One agreeable afternoon in late autumn two young men stood together onCanal Street, closing a conversation that had evidently begun withinthe club-house which they had just quitted.
“There’s big money in it, Offdean,” said the elder of the two. “I wouldn’t have you touch it if there was n’t. Why, they tell me Patchly ’spulled a hundred thousand out of the concern a’ready.”
“That may be,” replied Offdean, who had been politely attentive to thewords addressed to him, but whose face bore a look indicating that hewas closed to conviction. He leaned back upon the clumsy stick whichhe carried, and continued: “It’s all true, I dare say, Fitch; but adecision of that sort would mean more to me than you’d believe if Iwere to tell you. The beggarly twenty-five thousand’s all I have, andI want to sleep with it under my pillow a couple of months at leastbefore I drop it into a slot.”
“You’ll drop it into Harding & Offdean’s mill to grind out the pitifultwo and a half per cent commission racket; that’s what you’ll do inthe end, old fellow—see if you don’t.”
“Perhaps I shall; but it’s more than likely I shan’t. We’ll talkabout it when I get back. You know I’m off to north Louisiana in themorning”—
“No! What the deuce”—
“Oh, business of the firm.”
“Write me from Shreveport, then; or wherever it is.”
“Not so far as that. But don’t expect to hear from me till you see me.I can’t say when that will be.”
Then they shook hands and parted. The rather portly Fitch boardeda Prytania Street car, and Mr. Wallace Offdean hurried to the bankin order to replenish his portemonnaie, which had been materiallylightened at the club through the medium of unpropitious jack-pots andbobtail flushes.
He was a sure-footed fellow, this young Offdean, despite an occasionalfall in slippery places. What he wanted, now that he had reached histwenty-sixth year and his inheritance, was to get his feet well plantedon solid ground, and to keep his head cool and clear.
With his early youth he had had certain shadowy intentions of shapinghis life on intellectual lines. That is, he wanted to; and he meantto use his faculties intelligently, which means more than is at onceapparent. Above all, he would keep clear of the maelstroms of sordidwork and senseless pleasure in which the average American business manmay be said alternately to exist, and which reduce him, naturally, to arather ragged condition of soul.
Offdean had done, in a temperate way, the usual things which young mendo who happen to belong to good society, and are possessed of moderatemeans and healthy instincts. He had gone to college, had traveled alittle at home and abroad, had frequented society and the clubs, andhad worked in his uncle’s commission-house; in all of which employmentshe had expended much time and a modicum of energy.
But he felt all through that he was simply in a preliminary stageof being, one that would develop later into something tangible andintelligent, as he liked to tell himself. With his patrimony oftwenty-five thousand dollars came what he felt to be the turning-pointin his life,—the time when it behooved him to choose a course, and toget himself into proper trim to follow it manfully and consistently.